Ill-Advised Officiating Assignments

PJ, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

Under what circumstance should a 15 yo referee his younger brother’s soccer team?  Is this putting undue pressure on the ref, especially someone that inexperienced?  I’m not saying he would always “rig the game,” but it’s hard for him to process his mates calling him by name to give penalties, free kicks, etc. Sounds like it should be something strongly avoided if not forbidden altogether.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

We’re going to take a risky guess that you are British (based on your use of the word “mates”).  If this is correct, please note that we cannot and do not provide answers or guidance based on how other soccer organizations outside the US implement the Laws of the Game (see our statement of “principles” on the “About” tab).  If you live in the US, then read on because everything that follows is focused on IFAB/USSF protocols.

There are two levels at which the issues you raise can be approached.  One is the matter of age itself.  Persons can be certified at the lowest grade level as young as 12 though one or two years older than this is not infrequently required by many state and/or local soccer organizations.  Theoretically, therefore, a 15 year old Referee could have been officiating for as long as nearly 4 years — a length of time which could certainly lead to more than sufficient experience if the young Referee was able and willing to be assigned to lots of games each year.  Then there is the associated issue of “age difference” — in other words, someone at age 15 might well be more than adequately experienced to officiate, say, a U-12 match but would almost certainly not be assigned to, say, any match involving players who themselves are 15 and older.  These rules, if they exist, are almost always set at the local soccer organization level, by individual assignors, by the state association for upper level games, or even by the youth official’s parents.  When and where they exist, they must be followed of course. Note that you didn’t specify in your scenario how much younger the team’s players were than the 15 year old assigned to referee the match.

However, the second level at issue here doesn’t involve age but, rather, potential conflicts of interest.  Indeed, the USSF Administrative Handbook, in discussing ethical issues for Referees and Assignors, particularly notes that all officials are required to avoid conflicts of interest — and, short of betting on the outcome of a match, we doubt that there is any situation which is more clearly a conflict of interest than having a family connection with the one or more of the players or team officials being officiated!  Is it officially banned by name?  No, but it is clearly a circumstance to be avoided, either in offering or in accepting an assignment.

Most assignors routinely gather information from referees who want to receive games from that assignor and, routinely, questions are asked about whether there are any teams with which the referee is related to by family. Occasionally, a team might be approaching game time with no official in sight and might plead with a parent or spectator who also happens to be a certified official to “do the game” because, without an official, the game cannot be held (the game becomes a scrimmage at best).  We advise anyone who might be willing to volunteer to disclose fully their relationship with anyone associated with one of the teams and specifically to get agreement by both coaches that they accept the volunteer despite the unusual circumstances.

By the way, these two issues (age and conflict of interest) can merge when the Referee, no matter how well trained and experienced he or she might be, is the same age as the players being officiated.  At the same age, the issue is not so much experience as it is familiarity.  Unless it is a tournament far away from home (the players or the referee), it is quite likely that the Referee might know many of the players, not just of one team but of many teams, due to school, social, or other connections.  This is why tournaments will almost always specifically exclude from assignment any Referee who is in the same age grouping as an entire set of teams.

FINDING AN AFFILIATED COMPETITION IN ANOTHER STATE

Question:
Does the USSF maintain a list of their sanctioned affiliate leagues and tournaments across the US? Have they considered making this public?

It would help our referees to be able to look up a league or tournament to see if they are USSF sanctioned. Since each one should be registered with USSF, it seems an obvious body to provide a trustworthy listing of who is actually approved.

Of course, a referee can write or call a league and ask them if they are sanctioned…but I sometimes worry that a non-sanctioned assignor might not be 100% honest with refs. A central listing maintained by USSF would help all the referees be sure we are working under an entity that is in good standing with the USSF, and also help quality certified refs locate those leagues and tourneys who make the effort (and pay the fees) to be legitimately affiliated.

USSF answer (January 10, 2012):
The Federation does not maintain a centralized list of leagues or tournaments in the various state associations. Your referee committee and/or the individual referees concerned will need to check with the state associations under whose governance the particular competitions might fall.

INTERFERENCE BY ASSIGNORS

Question:
Elaborating on your question of May 5, regarding Mentor / Assessor actions during a game; may I extend the question to cover Assignors?

I am of the opinion, having done some research, that an Assignor cannot and should not, for example, replace a less-than-adequate AR during the course of a match. To me, this at a minimum interferes with the Referee’s authority over his/her crew during the match, and also opens the door to a perception that the officials can be replaced until the hosting organization gets the result that they want.

The context for this is that the ARs and even the Referees are very inexperienced, perhaps working their first few games, and so a reasonable observer could agree that the performance of an AR (or Referee) was, in fact, inadequate. It seems to me that the Assignor (and through him/her, the sponsoring organization) can: change future assignments … including the next game, provide instruction or mentoring, etc.. But once a game has begun the crew cannot be altered except by the referee who may dismiss an assistant for the reasons cited in the Laws.

And perhaps the Assignor should take additional care in the selection of crews.

I am hoping you could confirm or correct my interpretation. I have administrative responsibilities related to assignors in my state

USSF answer (May 26, 2010):
Once the match begins, only the referee has the power to relieve an assistant referee or fourth official of his or her duties. No assignor, no referee administrator of any sort or level, no instructor, no assessor or any other person has this right. And if the referee does decide to do without the person being removed, the game must be officiated in line with the guidelines given in the Referee Administrative Handbook — available for download from http://www.ussoccer.com and published here many times.

DO NOT REFEREE GAMES IN WHICH FAMILY IS INVOLVED

Question:
Is it ok to referee a game of a family member so long as it is fairly administered etc.?  If so, are there any disclosures recommended or required prior to the match to allow the coaches to make the call?

USSF answer (September 24, 2008):
The referee (or assistant referee) should turn down the assignment to such a game as soon as it is offered. To referee such a game other than in the most dire emergency is a violation of the Referee Code of Ethics.

That said, we understand circumstances may call for someone associated with the team to fill in as an assistant referee and, as long as both teams are aware of the situation and do not object, this may be the only practical way of ensuring full coverage on a match.

NO ARs AT A TOURNAMENT

Question:
I attended a tournament this past weekend for my U11 Boys team. After arriving at the fields I noticed that none of the younger teams, U11 included, were being officiated by the required 3 referees. So before the start of my game, I asked the tournament Administrators if we could have 3 refs for our games. They stated that it was their tournament and there-for their rules, they didn’t have to provide AR for a U11 game. I said that I thought that was illegal and that I thought they had to follow sanctioned rules. They simply restated “It’s our tournament, our rules.” What are my rights as a team manager for our team? What is the rule about the number of referees required for tournaments?And is there a difference with the age of the players? What should I do before going to my next tournament to insure this does not happen again?

USSF answer (May 7, 2008):
Unfortunately, we must give you the same response we give to referees who question the crazy rules used in some tournaments. If as a referee you accept the assignment to the tournament, you must follow the rules of that competition. The same is true for teams: If you enter the tournament and play, you must accept and follow the rules of that competition.

There are other methods that can be used. These are spelled out in the USSF Referee Administrative Handbook, available to all referees. It explains what options are available if there is not a full three-man crew.  The diagonal system of control must still be used, but the Handbook provides various alternatives for absent, missing, or even unassigned crew members.  (We have published this numerous times in the past. The full details may be found in the archives. Good luck!)

An alternative that is perfectly acceptable is for the the referee to ask each team for a club linesman, i. e., a person who will hold a flag, run up and down the line, and inform the referee when the ball is out of play. The club linesman may not show direction or indicate fouls or offside. In this alternative system, that is the job of the referee. Someone might even suggest to the tournament committee that they make this system part of the process for each team in the affected age groups.

SCRIMMAGE ASSIGNMENTS

Question:
Interesting thing happened here 2 days ago. 2 Select teams wanted to have a scrimmage with a referee crew. The game showed up on the assignor’s list as a regular game and she booked a crew for it. During the scrimmage the game started to get out of control and the referee sent off one of the players. Many questions: should a referee accept an assignment for a scrimmage? Is the referee covered by insurance? May cards be given at a scrimmage? If they can, where does the report go and what should it say? Will the player sent off have to sit out another game? The assignor said she might not have assigned a crew had she known it was a scrimmage that is a non-sanctioned game. The teams maintain that since they are sanctioned teams the referee is covered by insurance but I don’t know. I think I would have left the field once informed it wasn’t a USSF sanctioned game. What would you do?

USSF answer (November 19, 2007):
If the scrimmage appears as part of the regular assignment process and is listed by the league assignor, it should be considered by the referee to be officially sanctioned. The teams did not call the referees directly to make the arrangements, but went through the official assignment procedure with the league assignor. Now the answers to the remaining questions follow naturally.